Norway: Latest working life developments – Q2 2017

Amendments to the Working Environment Act on working time and whistle-blowing; the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) congress; and the start of parliamentary election campaigning are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Norway in the second quarter of 2017.

Amendments to Working Environment Act 

On 1 July 2017 two amendments were made to the Working Environment Act. One was implemented to strengthen the protection of whistle-blowers in Norwegian working life, with protection extended to temporary workers (since they may also become aware of questionable circumstances in companies). Under the new legislation, companies with five or more employees are now required to prepare notification procedures for whistle-blowers and – to make it safer to notify public authorities – the confidentiality of the whistle-blowers is also strengthened.

Amendments were also made to working time regulations in the Working Environment Act. In order to facilitate a better work–life balance, employees are now allowed to split their workdays and do part of their work in the evening until 21:00 (with the agreement of their employers). This should make it easier for parents, who have to take children to and from school, to work full-time. Before the amendment, daytime work could not continue after 21:00 as this would be considered night work. All trade union confederations, except the Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne) opposed the measure, which was widely supported by employers. Union confederations feared the amendment would put more pressure on employees to work nights and increase the risk of extra pay for evening work being abolished (if this work were to be considered part of the normal working day).

Trade union confederation holds congress 

The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the country’s largest union confederation, held its congress in May 2017. The congress is the highest authority of the confederation and meets every fourth year to decide on its Programme of Action and on amendments to the Constitution, and to establish the LO’s general course for the next four years. The congress also elect new leaders for the next term; this year LO President Gerd Elin Kristiansen stepped down and was replaced by Hans-Christian Gabrielsen.

There was some tension over the debate on Norway’s relation to the EU single market, as some unions have been in favour of Norway leaving the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement and, thereby, the single market. However, the congress still supports the agreement, but asked the government to fight limitations on its powers, such as industrial action and collective bargaining. It also asked that core ILO Conventions should be given priority over other regulations and that, in Norway, domestic collective agreements and labour law should be given priority over EU law.

Upcoming elections for new parliament

The campaign for elections for a new parliament began and several working life issues have been part of the debate. Polling day is set for September 2017. The Labour Party and other opposition parties have attacked the amendments to the Working Environment Act, with Labour party leader Jonas Gahr Støre saying that Labour would reverse the liberalisation of the use of fixed-term contracts if it was elected. The Labour Party has also announced that it is in favour of giving core ILO Conventions priority over other regulations, as discussed at the LO congress, and that it wants to stop the use of zero-hour contracts by temporary work agencies. It also wants to reduce the share of temporary agency work in the construction sector. A similar initiative was taken by the current government on 28 June, when it sent a bill on restricting temporary agency work out for consultation.

Outlook for elections

So far, it is hard to say who will win the upcoming election. The result might determine how restrictive regulation becomes in seeking to address the negative effects of globalisation and labour migration on the labour market. How much regulation changes remains to be seen.  

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